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5 stats that popped from KU football’s loss at Baylor

Baylor cornerback Harrison Hand (31) breaks the pass intended for Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas. (Ernesto Garcia/Waco Tribune Herald)

Baylor cornerback Harrison Hand (31) breaks the pass intended for Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas. (Ernesto Garcia/Waco Tribune Herald)

In a turnover-free Big 12 opener at Baylor on Saturday, the Kansas football team put together too few highlights on either side of the ball to keep up with the Bears in a 26-7 defeat.

One 90-yard scoring drive was the exception rather than the rule for KU’s offense, and the Jayhawks (2-2 overall, 0-1 conference) didn’t come close to crawling out of a 23-point first-half hole.

And though redshirt senior linebacker Joe Dineen delivered 13 total tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries, the defense as a whole too often suffered breakdowns, and surrendered 447 yards, a season-high for a KU opponent.

Here are five statistics that kept Kansas from truly competing with Baylor.

Not enough support from passing game

The Bears (3-1, 1-0) knew the Jayhawks would like nothing more than to feature freshman running back Pooka Williams as much as possible, and the Bears game-planned accordingly.

But KU never forced BU to adjust its run-stopping defense with an effective passing attack.

Senior quarterback Peyton Bender completed 10 of his 17 throws, but a whopping seven of his completions picked up seven yards or fewer. Another completion — a touchdown pass to Jeremiah Booker — went for 10 yards.

So, between seven incompletions and eight completions of 10 or fewer yards, 15 of KU’s passing plays with Bender in the game netted a combined 40 yards.

Keep in mind: not all of that goes on Bender. The offensive line has to provide better pass protection and receivers have to find more opportunities to get open and bring in catchable passes in order for this offense to reach its ceiling.

Finding balance in the backfield

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) has his head turned on a penalty against a Baylor defender during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas.

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) has his head turned on a penalty against a Baylor defender during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas.

The Bears reminded the Jayhawks that even Pooka Williams can’t do everything.

While the talented freshman from Louisiana was able to bust a 72-yard rush that set up KU’s lone TD, eight of his 14 carries went for three yards or fewer.

Some of that is to be expected, especially with a freshman playing his first Big 12 game and a still jelling O-line taking on the best front it has seen so far this season.

More surprising, though, was how little KU used its other two running backs. Junior Khalil Herbert carried the ball just twice for six yards. And sophomore Dom Williams also finished with only two runs, picking up two yards.

For the benefit of the running game and offense overall, KU likely needs to find ways to incorporate Herbert and Dom Williams more, while also relying heavily on Pooka Williams. It’s difficult to pull off such balance, particularly if a defense is keying on your run game and presenting matchups that lead you to pass more. But it’s something KU’s coaches will have to figure out.

On 55 plays at Baylor, one of KU’s top three running backs carried the ball on 18 snaps (33 percent).

3rd down struggles

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is tackled by Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts (52) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas.

Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender (7) is tackled by Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts (52) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Waco, Texas.

Outside of a touchdown pass from Bender to Booker in the third quarter, the Jayhawks mostly struggled to convert on third downs.

Overall, just four of KU’s 13 third-down plays went for a first down. On average, the visitors had 8.8 yards to go on their third downs, adding to their plight. They only averaged 3.4 yards gained on third downs.

On third-and-short (one to four yards), KU was fine, picking up two of three — Pooka Williams ran for one in the second quarter and backup QB Miles Kendrick converted on a carry in the third.

However, on third-and-longs (nine-plus yards), KU went two for six. Although the Jayhawks converted six of eight passes on third downs, they averaged just 1.3 yards per attempt and were also sacked three times.

Conversely, the Baylor offense’s 7-for-14 third-down success was fueled by gaining, on average, 9.4 yards on third down.

Long fields ahead

KU started every possession at least 75 yards from the end zone.

On average, thanks to Baylor’s kickoff and punt teams, the Jayhawks’ average starting field position was their own 17-yard line.

On KU’s 11 drives, one concluded with a score and seven possessions traveled fewer than 20 yards. Only four series ventured into Baylor territory.

The Jayhawks went three-and-out on four possessions and punted seven times.

Baylor’s offense, on 11 drives, had no three-and-outs.

Carter Stanley’s late-game reps

Given the context of the game essentially being over and Baylor not having incentive to play all of its first-stringers, it’s difficult to know how Carter Stanley would have performed if he played earlier in the game.

Still, the redshirt junior at times looked both comfortable and effective, once he took the field with less than six minutes remaining at McLane Stadium.

A shoulder injury kept Kendrick from handling KU’s final two possessions. In his place Stanley completed four of his six passes for 37 yards and rushed three times for 27 yards (second-best total on the team).

On his first series, Stanley made two short completions to Kerr Johnson, but suffered a second-down sack. KU went three-and-out.

The final possession began in the last minute of the fourth quarter, and Stanley hit Evan Fairs for 20 yards and Booker for 10 yards through the air. He also took off for rushes of 18 and 15 yards. KU went 63 yards in six plays before time ran out.

There’s no word yet on the extent of Kendrick’s injury. But if he happens to miss some time, KU knows it has another QB it can use in Stanley.

And, let’s face it, even though Bender has started all four games it’s not as if anyone would consider his status a lock going forward. Should Stanley see more playing time in upcoming weeks and give the offense a spark, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him move up the depth chart.

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Freshman CB Corione Harris ‘workmanlike’ in 1st career start

Kansas freshman cornerback Corione Harris smiles as he pulls on his helmet during practice on Monday, April 23, 2018.

Kansas freshman cornerback Corione Harris smiles as he pulls on his helmet during practice on Monday, April 23, 2018. by Nick Krug

No one figured it would take Corione Harris long to break into the starting lineup at Kansas. Still, the freshman cornerback from New Orleans might have even flown past some of his highest expectations.

It only took Harris until the second game of his college football career to graduate from contributing reserve to a first series appearance.

On the same day that fellow four-star Louisianan Pooka Williams Jr. sprinted and juked to a spectacular debut at Central Michigan, Harris, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound corner, started, too. And while Harris, who played in spots off the bench the previous week, didn’t provide the same fireworks for the defense that Williams did for the offense, his teammates and coaches thought the young defender held up well.

“He handled it exactly like we thought he would. He didn't make any big deal about it. It was just very workmanlike,” KU coach David Beaty said.

Harris replaced senior Hasan Defense in the starting lineup.

“We felt he had earned that opportunity,” Beaty explained of the switch. “He had shown we could trust him in that position, that he had adapted to the scheme and the way that we were able to do things and that it really, ultimately, with him and all of them, it comes down to who we trust is going to be able to do it the best.”

Initially, it appeared Central Michigan (0-2) might try to test the true freshman often. On the Chippewas’ second play from scrimmage, quarterback Tony Poljan targeted Harris’ man, Brandon Childress. With Harris giving the receiver roughly a seven-yard cushion, CMU picked up 9 yards and a first down, as Harris got credit for a tackle, bringing Childress down out of bounds.

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However, CMU spent the majority of the game either running or throwing nowhere near Harris. He finished with three total tackles (two solo) in a road win that improved KU to 1-1. According to analysis from Pro Football Focus, Harris played 49 snaps (on possessions that he sat, Elmore Hempstead Jr. replaced him) and received a grade of 62.6.

Though far from proven at the college level, Harris’ approach and ability has long made teammates think it’s only a matter of time before he starts playing to a level worthy of his high school hype.

Junior safety Bryce Torneden said Harris — KU team policy doesn’t allow freshmen to do media interviews — looked like a natural at times, as early as this past spring’s practices.

“It’s very apparent to see,” Torneden said. “It’s definitely going to be awesome to see him put his whole game together with his natural raw ability that he has and the coaching that we have here.”

According to Torneden, Harris’ ball skills likely are his biggest strength in the secondary.

“When that ball is in the air, he’s a go-getter,” the safety said of the corner. “He’s going to go up and get it.”

Although KU picked off four passes at CMU, Harris didn’t get an opportunity to show off that ability. His best chance to join the takeaway brigade came on the first play of the second half. Poljan didn’t pass to the freshman’s man, but Harris was one of a swarm of Jayhawks zeroing in on a fumble — even getting a hand on it — before Torneden secured it. Harris hopped up off the turf and was the first KU defender pointing in the other direction to indicate Shak Taylor’s forced fumble was recovered by the Jayhawks.

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Taylor, who also returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown while playing opposite Harris, said the freshman corner passed a potentially tough test, making his first career start on the road.

“He played his game, and did what he had to do,” Taylor said. “Of course, there are going to be little things you need to work on when you’re a true freshman coming in for your first start. But I felt like he played really well being in that position.”

One example of Harris simply carrying out his assignment came later in the third quarter. On 3rd and 21, he played far off receiver Jamil Sabbagh, making him an easy underneath target. But Harris and senior linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. easily stopped Sabbagh 10 yards shy of a 1st down.

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The Jayhawk who knows Harris best, junior safety Mike Lee, a fellow Landry-Walker High graduate, expects the freshman to continue developing and improving.

“He could be real good when it gets to learn things he needs to learn. I think he does everything well: tackle, cover, catch,” Lee said. “He’s just a physical, smart guy. He’s fast. … I ain’t going to say he’s faster than me, but he’s fast.”

The defenders who have witnessed Harris’ growth since he arrived in Lawrence in January think his first career start and the lessons that accompanied it will only help his trajectory.

“Obviously, he’s an amazing player and an amazing athlete,” Torneden said. “I think he played great. He was very consistent throughout the game. I think the big thing about our defense is playing consistent. I think he did a great job of that. He did his job, he played his role and I’m expecting a lot out of him.”

Reply 6 comments from Len Shaffer Craig Jackson Lcjayhawk Benton Smith Dirk Medema

‘Pass-first’ QB Miles Kendrick assesses his KU debut

University of Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick

University of Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick by Carter Gaskins

During his first game wearing a Kansas football uniform, backup quarterback Miles Kendrick only got onto the turf for six snaps.

The sophomore dual threat QB carried the ball twice, handed it off once and connected on two of his three throws during his cameo, which included a bit part on the Jayhawks’ final offensive play of overtime.

Now Kendrick’s goal is to absorb all he can, both positive and negative, from the small sample size of game footage at his disposal.

“I think I took a lot away from those reps,” Kendrick said. “There were different things that I see as far as the play calls. I could have changed my mind depending on what I saw, maybe change a route, an RPO or things like that. Nothing really major. We’re continuing to learn from every rep.”

On his first play from scrimmage, coming in for one series worth of relief for starter Peyton Bender with 9:14 left in the first half, Kendrick looked as if he may put the ball in the hands of running back Khalil Herbert before keeping it. Kendrick picked up 4 yards.

via GIPHY

Next, on 2nd and 6, a little play-action allowed Kendrick to hit Evan Fairs for 8 yards and a first down.

Asked whether, instinctively, he would rather pass or take off and run on, Kendrick described himself as a “pass-first” QB.

via GIPHY

“I just think I bring a different skill set to the table than Peyton. I mean, Peyton throws the ball incredibly well,” Kendrick said, “but I’m just a guy that brings a different dimension. Doesn’t mean I can’t pass the ball. I believe I’m a pass-first guy. Just another thing for the other team to prepare for.”

After Kendrick’s first throw at KU went for a 1st down, Herbert ran for 4 yards before the backup got back to testing his arm. On 2nd and 6 Herbert gave a little token fake handoff in the direction of Dom Williams before taking a deep shot down the left sideline to the Jayhawks’ top receiver, Steven Sims Jr.

On a pass that traveled roughly 40-plus yards in the air, from the right hash toward the left sideline, Sims couldn’t come down with a catch after leaping upward to get a hand on it.

KU also was flagged for an ineligible man downfield on the play, so it wouldn’t have stood if completed, but it still qualified for Kendrick as a chance to assess his skills.

via GIPHY

“On that play they played press bail. Originally (we) wanted (Sims) to run kind of like a curl route,” Kendrick began. “But I saw the corner was pressed, so I gave him a go route and it was a 50-50 ball. If I were to replay it and try something else, maybe I would have just handed off the ball and see if our line could have gotten the four or five yards that we needed and my drive would have continued.”

A safety moving toward the line of scrimmage gave KU unfavorable numbers in the box, Kendrick said, so he tried to make a play through the air.

“Looking back at the tape, maybe a little bit underthrown, but like I said, 50-50 ball,” Kendrick said. “Those guys make plays and that’s their job. My job is just to give them a chance and hopefully they make me look good.”

Kendrick’s next throw would be his last of Week 1, as Kendrick shoveled the ball to Williams for a 4-yard gain, 2 yards shy of a 1st down.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound QB left the field with more than 7 minutes to go until halftime. He didn’t return until overtime, on 3rd and 6 at Nicholls’ 21-yard line.

Given the time he spent on the sideline and the situation, was Kendrick surprised when head coach David Beaty inserted him late?

Well, no.

“I’m the type of person, I’m always going to stay ready and I’m always going to want to be in that position,” Kendrick said. “Game on the line, that’s what you play for. I was excited when my number was called. It wasn’t like I was caught off guard or anything. You’ve got to be ready for anything. College football’s exciting. We have a great opportunity this season.”

KU sent five potential receivers out on what proved to be its final offensive play of OT. It was designed for Kendrick to take off and run, ideally for a 1st down or longer. However, Nicholls’ Sully Laiche tackled Kendrick for a 3-yard loss after executing a twist at the line of scrimmage. KU had to settle for a 41-yard Gabriel Rui field goal and a brief 23-20 lead.

None by Shane Jackson

Asked by one reporter whether he would do anything differently, now that he has looked back at the unsuccessful play, Kendrick said perhaps he could have checked into a different call at the line of scrimmage.

“At the end of the day I get the call from the coach and they ask me real specifically what they want me to do, and I try to carry out that assignment as best as possible,” Kendrick said.

The QB who provides KU’s offense with some different running possibilities than Bender went 2 for 3 through the air for 12 yards and finished with two carries that netted 1 yard in the opener.

As the Jayhawks (0-1) prepare for Saturday’s road trip to Central Michigan (0-1), Kendrick hopes to take even more in-game snaps moving forward.

“I’m going to stay prepared as much as I can,” Kendrick said. “Peyton is one play away from coming off the field, so either way all quarterbacks in the quarterback room have to be ready to come on the field at any given notice.”

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KU football MVP Countdown: No. 1, Daniel Wise

University of Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise

University of Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise by Carter Gaskins

To simply call Daniel Wise a returning starter, redshirt senior defensive tackle and Kansas football leader doesn’t really do him justice.

A preseason first-team All-Big 12 choice, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Wise proved to be a force on the Jayhawks’ D-line in 2017, racking up 53 total tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and five quarterback hurries.

Now, with Dorance Armstrong Jr. playing in the NFL with Dallas, instead of next to Wise, even more eyes will be on KU’s oldest, strongest and most versatile interior lineman. That means more game plans focused on stopping him and even more Big 12 offensive linemen aiming to outshine him one-on-one.

But if anyone on KU’s roster can handle that type of spotlight it’s Wise.

Plus, he’s not so focused on individual accolades and impressing NFL scouts with his own play that he overlooks how much help he will need from his teammates.

“He really has taken this team by storm,” fellow redshirt senior Joe Dineen said, while praising Wise for how hard he worked in the offseason. “He’s a great leader. The thing that’s cool about him is he’s not just content with being great himself. He gets other people around him really good, as well. So he’s got that D-line unit rolling.”

The multitalented Wise possesses too much ability to just line up over a center or guard, too. In the past, when possible, KU has moved him around at the line of scrimmage to find mismatches and opportunities to deploy Wise as a pass-rusher.

Don’t be surprised if Wise does more of that in his final season at KU. He thinks he’ll be even better in those situations, as well, having reviewed in-game footage of what worked and what didn’t.

With 35 appearances and 30 college starts behind him, Wise plans on his last season with the Jayhawks being his best. And he has lessons fueling his approach: “Obviously how to play it even better,” he said. “How to be more effective, how to be more efficient in all those positions.”

No. 5: C Alex Fontana

No. 4: RB Khalil Herbert

No. 3: LB Joe Dineen

No. 2: WR Steven Sims Jr.

— Check out the rest of the MVP countdown at Tom Keegan’s Lunch Break blog: Nos. 6-25

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KU football MVP Countdown: No. 2, Steven Sims Jr.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) runs from the end zone after fielding a kickoff during practice on Monday, April 23, 2018.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) runs from the end zone after fielding a kickoff during practice on Monday, April 23, 2018. by Nick Krug

Easily the skill player most feared by Kansas football opponents, senior receiver Steven Sims Jr. already ranks fifth in program history with 2,049 career receiving yards

The dynamic 5-foot-10, 176-pound wideout from Houston also is third all-time at KU with 161 career receptions and tied for sixth in the Jayhawks’ record books with 15 career touchdown catches.

Sims’ seven 100-yard receiving games, all in the past two seasons, give him the fourth-most among anyone who every has suited up for KU.

Keep in mind Sims has accomplished all of this without even playing for an average offensive team and you get an even greater sense of his value to the KU attack.

Quietly, the Jayhawks think this team should be the best since David Beaty became head coach. With an overhauled offensive line and three talented running backs, the style of KU’s offense could look significantly different this year.

Even if offensive coordinator Doug Meacham favors a clock-consuming, run-heavy approach instead of asking Peyton Bender to make a ton of quick reads and throws, the Jayhawks still should be able to make practical use of the speedy Sims.

In fact, the veteran receiver is an enthusiastic supporter of KU’s running backs, because he envisions them forcing defenses to inch closer and closer to the line of scrimmage to try and bottle up those ball carriers.

“If they get going, it’s only going to open up the pass. So we’ve gotta do that first,” Sims said. “Start with the run, get the run going and everything else is gonna open up.”

Sims can make the types of big plays in the passing game that ignite an entire offense, and it’s feasible for him to be even more productive as a senior if the offense can become more dynamic, making it more difficult to prepare for.

No. 5: C Alex Fontana

No. 4: RB Khalil Herbert

No. 3: LB Joe Dineen

— Check out the rest of the MVP countdown at Tom Keegan’s Lunch Break blog: Nos. 6-25

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KU football MVP Countdown: No. 3, Joe Dineen

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) drags down Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke (12) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. (29) drags down Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke (12) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

If you thought leading not only the Big 12 but all of FBS with 7.6 solo tackles per game or setting a Kansas football single-season record with 25.0 tackles for loss in 2017 would be enough to satisfy Joe Dineen, then you just don’t know Joe Dineen.

A preseason All-Big 12 first-team selection leading into this, his redshirt senior season with the Jayhawks, Dineen would like to contribute even more to his hometown team’s defense in his final college season.

His 137 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, two pass breakups and two quarterback hurries a year ago were productive and all, too. It’s just that Dineen, who grew up in Lawrence and graduated from Free State High, wants to improve in other areas in the months ahead.

“Definitely my coverage skills,” the 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker began, when asked what he could do better this fall. “You know, I need to get some picks. And just turnovers in general. Anything to get the ball back in our offense’s hands. I think those are plays that change the course of a game.”

In his first 37 games wearing a KU uniform (23 starts), Dineen has yet to record an interception. He hasn’t recovered a fumble either.

“I need to get some of those this year,” Dineen said.

Defensively, KU couldn’t ask for much more statistical production than Dineen gave in 2017. But he’s asking that of himself, as one of the program’s leaders.

If Dineen can read plays even faster, allowing him to not only make more tackles near and behind the line of scrimmage, but also improve in pass coverage as a fifth-year senior, KU’s defense will be more likely to get the overall boost it needs, as well.

As someone who has followed KU football his entire life, it would mean the world to Dineen to help the program break its ongoing funk before he moves on to pursue a career in the NFL.

Why does he think this could be the year for a turnaround?

“My reason would be all the seniors we have coming back,” Dineen said earlier this week, “and the work we’ve put in from when we were freshmen all the way up to now. I think we’re really gonna see the fruits of our labor pick up this year. I’m really excited to see the product we put on the field.”

No. 5: C Alex Fontana

No. 4: RB Khalil Herbert

— Check out the rest of the MVP countdown at Tom Keegan’s Lunch Break blog: Nos. 6-25

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KU football MVP Countdown: No. 4, Khalil Herbert

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a run during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a run during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Kansas football’s offensive coaches think they have three perfectly capable running backs , all effective in their own way and all viable threats to break open a drive with a big play.

But junior Khalil Herbert just might prove to be the strongest and most complete back in the bunch.

With 19 games of experience behind him, including two monster outings as a sophomore, when he combined for 428 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns in a two-week span, the 5-foot-9, 210-pound upperclassman possesses the potential to be the most explosive player on the offense.

An injury during the fifth game of his second college season mostly derailed Herbert the remainder of 2017, and he finished the year with 663 rushing yards and the 4 aforementioned TDs.

A healthy Herbert, though, could easily surpass all of those totals this fall, even while splitting reps and touches with Dom Williams and Pooka Williams.

Herbert figures to be KU’s true do-it-all running back. His powerful legs have shown burst before, so you know he can run off tackle, turn a corner and bust a long rush. But coaches also think he can catch the ball. And in short-yardage situations, he’ll be the one trusted to lower his shoulder and deliver on an old fashioned carry up the middle.

He can slash when he needs to and has the mass to make him tough to tackle.

If KU is ready to embrace its running game behind a revamped offensive line, Herbert could be on the verge of a breakout year.

KU hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since James Sims, in 2013. After averaging 5.5 yards per carry as a sophomore on 120 attempts, maybe a healthy Herbert is the one to break that streak.

No. 5: C Alex Fontana

— Check out the rest of the MVP countdown at Tom Keegan’s Lunch Break blog: Nos. 6-25

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KU football MVP Countdown: No. 5, Alex Fontana

Kansas offensive lineman Alex Fontana

Kansas offensive lineman Alex Fontana by Carter Gaskins

When the Kansas football team lost its presumed starting center for 2018, Mesa Ribordy, during the offseason due to retirement, it didn’t take much reflection to realize how dire a situation the Jayhawks would face if they didn’t find a worthy replacement.

All one needed to do was recall the two games KU played without Ribordy in 2017. When the center missed back-to-back road games due to injury, the offense fell off a cliff. The Jayhawks only managed 106 yards in a shutout loss at Iowa State, then barely stayed on the right side of zero with a 21-yard showing in another dismal shutout at TCU.

Nothing has been proven as of yet, but KU coaches and players seem to think graduate transfer Alex Fontana, formerly of the University of Houston, is exactly the man they needed at center.

Fourth-year head coach David Beaty said earlier this week Fontana, who started five games for Houston in 2016 before missing 2017 due to injury, won them over with his “tough guy” approach at center.

“Everything starts there, and it's not just the snap,” Beaty said. “That's the most pivotal part, but then that guy, in this day and age you're seeing so many three-down fronts and open sets that that guy, he’s gonna be covered up, so you’ve got to be able to handle a nose, a guy that's 350 pounds, and still get the ball snapped. I mean, I’m not signing up for that job. That's a dirty job, there's no doubt. It's a man's job.”

A 6-foot-2, 300-pound Toronto native, when Fontana’s name comes up during discussions with KU players and coaches, it’s not uncommon for the word “nasty” to follow.

The Jayhawks love what they’ve seen out of their new starting center during practices, workouts and meetings, and they hope he will bring the perfect combination of leadership and ability to change the way the whole offensive line operates on Saturdays this fall.

— Check out the rest of the MVP countdown at Tom Keegan’s Lunch Break blog: Nos. 6-25

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KU Kickoff 2018: How the Jayhawks could win 4 games — or more

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a touchdown run past Ohio safety Kylan Nelson (23) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

Kansas running back Khalil Herbert (10) takes off on a touchdown run past Ohio safety Kylan Nelson (23) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. by Nick Krug

Earlier this week, Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan officially made his win/loss prediction for the 2018 Kansas football team, picking the Jayhawks to finish David Beaty's fourth season with a 3-9 record. Clearly, that's not the only possibility for the Jayhawks, who, with a veteran group mixed with some new faces, could finish with more or certainly even fewer victories than the three Keegan's predicting. That's where the rest of us come in. In the days leading up to KU’s opener, we'll look at three more possible win totals for the 2018 Kansas football team, which opens the regular season at 6 p.m. Saturday night at home against Nicholls.


Let’s say you’re the super-positive type. A person who looks at a 50-percent filled glass of your favorite beverage and thinks, “Man, there is so much drink left! How will I ever finish it? This is going to be a terrific day.” Well, then this is the Kansas football season outlook case for you.

It would take an abundance of factors playing out favorably for the Jayhawks over the next three months, but if you’re convinced that’s possible you could probably talk yourself into KU winning at least four games for the first time since 2009.

The most talented and experienced players on the roster, Daniel Wise, Joe Dineen and Steven Sims Jr., want to finish their careers by delivering a breakthrough season for the program. That’s not a bad place to start, because they are leaders and will have high standards that they expect the rest of their teammates to meet.

In terms of what happens on Saturdays during actual competition, though, the first thing KU needs is for its revamped offensive line to play as well as coaches think it can. If newcomers in center Alex Fontana, right guard Dwayne Wallace and right tackle Kevin Feder jell and produce with left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and left guard Andru Tovi, then the offense could actually build some momentum in the weeks to come instead of regressing the way it did in 2017, following KU’s season-opening win.

If the O-line becomes a strength instead of a weakness, suddenly offensive coordinator Doug Meacham doesn’t have to ask as much out of Peyton Bender at quarterback, and the offense can ride running backs Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams, while mixing in throws to Sims and KU’s other receivers, as opposed to hoping quick hits and bubble screens work out.

An effective run-based offense would obviously benefit a defense that returns the majority of its starters from a year ago, allowing them to rest instead of playing a full series, seeing KU’s offense go three and out and then getting right back on the field.

Let’s say all of this goes according to plan. Then it’s not unreasonable to expect KU to win its two nonconference home games in September against Nicholls State and Rutgers.

And now it doesn’t become crazy to think the Jayhawks could end the program’s longstanding miserable road losing streak at 46 games by winning in Week 2 at Central Michigan — a team picked in the preseason media poll to finish fifth out of six teams in the MAC West Division.

In this utopian September KU finds itself one victory away from its best post-Mark Mangino season. Could a newly confident group of Jayhawks head to Baylor in Week 4 and show no signs of being the same team that failed to score a TD against the Bears in Lawrence in 2017?

Could one of the Big 12 visitors to Kansas David Booth Memorial Stadium — Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State or Texas — overlook the Jayhawks? What if one of those teams suffers through a turnover-heavy, mistake-filled game, as well, allowing KU to eke out a win like it did against the Longhorns in 2016?

A viewpoint originating from a pie in the sky gets Kansas football to a much better place in 2018.

In reality, even a 4-8 mark would be rather remarkable for KU, given how low the program has been for so long. Throw in the fact that 4 victories in 2018 would surpass head coach David Beaty’s win total from his first 36 games as head coach and that record actually looks like progress.

Officially, I’m guessing Kansas will be more competitive this fall than it has been at any point during Beaty’s first three seasons. But I’m also guessing the Jayhawks finish 3-9.

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The case for a 2-win Kansas football season

Tom Keegan predicts a 3-9 finish for the 2018 Jayhawks

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Though not KU’s starting QB, Miles Kendrick will play ‘in every game’

Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick drops back to throw as he is protected by Kansas offensive lineman Antione Frazier (75) and Kansas offensive lineman Larry Hughes (73) during an open practice on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick drops back to throw as he is protected by Kansas offensive lineman Antione Frazier (75) and Kansas offensive lineman Larry Hughes (73) during an open practice on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

No, Miles Kendrick didn’t win the starting quarterback job for the Kansas football team during preseason camp.

But his head coach foresees the sophomore dual threat QB who joined the program as a transfer in the spring factoring into the Jayhawks’ offensive game plan immediately.

It is clear David Beaty, who a week ago named Peyton Bender KU’s No. 1 QB for the season opener, and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham didn’t think Kendrick possessed the right combination of attributes at this stage of his career to supplant Bender, a senior who started eight games in 2017. That doesn’t mean they have completely discounted Kendrick, either.

While discussing the team’s three quarterbacks Monday night on the first installment of his weekly Hawk Talk radio show, Beaty didn’t only speak highly of Kendrick, listed alongside junior Carter Stanley as a potential No. 2 QB on the team’s first published depth chart. KU’s fourth-year head coach actually went out of his way to tell anyone who was listening that the 5-foot-10, 200-pound QB from College of San Mateo will get on the field this Saturday against Nicholls State (6 p.m., Kansas David Booth Memorial Stadium) and beyond.

“He’s gonna play for us. He’s gonna play for us in that first game. He’s gonna play for us in every game,” Beaty added.

While the coach didn’t get into the specifics of those statements — he should be able to elaborate Tuesday at his weekly press conference — it seems most likely KU will have some packages or plays specifically designed for Kendrick.

This doesn’t mean he and Bender will swap roles every other possession or anything of that nature, the way Beaty did a couple years back with Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis.

There just may be some calls or situations in which the Jayhawks can throw a modified attack at a defense with the mobile Kendrick taking the snaps.

“He’s got some things about him that really bring a new type of, a new twist to our offense,” Beaty said, “which I think is gonna be really good. We really like the kid. One of the hardest workers I’ve ever had.”

KU’s coaches liked Kendrick’s potential enough that they gave him every chance during preseason camp to win the starting job before Bender prevailed.

“He got a bunch of reps for us early on,” Beaty said of the initial August practice plan for Kendrick. “We had to find out. We had to know, right? So he took a lot of reps with the first team early on.”

Apparently Meacham and Beaty saw enough out of Kendrick through those reps to start figuring out ways that he could help the offense every Saturday.

“And what we found out was that we got us a good one there,” Beaty said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Beaty explained the sophomore “needs a little bit more time” to become a complete QB. It just so happens Kendrick will get in-game opportunities as he continues working toward that goal.

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